1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

The Cycle of Child Abuse


You see your child misbehaving, and you tell him to stop. He ignores you, and you tell him again. You are getting frustrated. He says OK, I will, then 10 minutes later the same thing is going on. You're really angry now. It feels like your authority as a parent means nothing. If other adults are around then it's even worse, you feel ineffective and inadequate. So you yell, I TOLD YOU TO STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. GET OVER HERE. You grab him by the arm when he comes to you, give him a shake, and tell him to go to his room. YOU'RE GOING TO GET A WHIPPING FOR NOT MINDING ME. A few minutes later you go into his room with the belt and spank his bottom with three good licks.

Now, fast forward about ten years. He's fifteen, and you tell him to clean his room. He sighs, walks into his room, and slams the door.Thirty minutes later you check, and he hasn't done a thing in his room. In fact, he's on the phone with a friend, the TV is blaring, and a bag of chips is spilled on the floor now. You've had it with his defiance of your requests. You yell at him, YOU ARE SO LAZY. I TOLD YOU TO CLEAN UP IN HERE, AND YOU DELIBERATELY DEFIED ME. YOU'RE GOING TO GET A WHIPPING FOR NOT MINDING ME. He's heard that before and he's decided he's had enough. OH NO YOU'RE NOT. YOU'RE NOT GOING TO TOUCH ME. I'M GETTING OUT OF THIS PLACE. He bolts for the door and you grab him as he moves past you. He swings around and pushes you out of the way. You fall against the dresser and it hurts. You are livid. JUST WAIT UNTIL I GET YOU, you scream after him.

The Cycle of Abuse follows a certain predictable pattern that begins when the child is young and gets progressively worse as the child becomes a teenager. Here are the steps you will see:

1. The child misbehaves.
2. The parent notices the child's misbehavior and gives him instructions to correct it.
3. The child does not comply. He may ignore the instructions, argue, or even refuse to do what the parent says.
4. The parent feels angry. The parent feels that his authority is being threatened. The parent yells at the child, shakes him, insults him, or hits him.
5. The child feels angry, resentful, and worthless.
6. The child's misbehavior becomes more ingrained and is now based on feelings of revenge and/or worthlessness.
7. The parent becomes more and more frustrated with the continued misbehavior and the entire cycle escalates until someone intervenes or someone gets hurt badly.

You can see the potential for this cycle to occur in any family. Also apparent is the need for parents to learn effective ways to discipline their children without yelling and spanking. There are three primary intervention points in this cycle.

  • When giving instructions to the child
  • After the child has failed to comply with the instructions
  • With the child's feelings of worthwhileness and bonding with the parent

Learn how to break the cycle of abuse in your own family with the strategies in the Child Discipline Series and How to Build Your Child's Self-Esteem at Parenting of K-6 Children.

Child Abuse Prevention Links

More of this Feature

Parenting Practices Associated with Child Abuse

Heroes of Abused and Neglected Children

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.